Palmer and Barnes have two regular season matches left and, so far, have only lost one match. Confidence is high that the two may be headed to state in a few weeks.
But what makes their accomplishments on the court so much more impressive is that both of them have type 1 diabetes (T1D).
“I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at the end of my sixth grade school year,” said Palmer. “I was 12 years old. Symptoms that my parents noticed were frequent weight loss; I constantly had the craving for water, and I was going to the bathroom a lot. In about a month, I lost over 40 pounds. My mom took me to get blood work done one morning. She knew something was wrong.”
Palmer says when he got the diagnosis, he had no idea what it was.
“I was rushed to the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville and spent about four days there learning what diabetes really was and how to take care of myself.”
Barnes was just six when he was diagnosed. And now, at 18, he takes it all in stride and even jokes that his condition is “nothing a little bit of Gatorade can’t fix.”
According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) website, T1D is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells, called beta cells, in the pancreas. While T1D’s causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved. The onset of T1D has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle. There is nothing you can do to prevent T1D, and — at present — nothing you can do to get rid of it.
For someone who has T1D, managing his or her blood sugar is especially important while being physically active.
“Certainly playing sports with diabetes has its challenges, but I’m thankful I’ve had some wonderful people in my life to help me along the way and make the process a little bit easier,” said Barnes.
Palmer, who was diagnosed a little bit later in childhood than Barnes, says playing sports while managing his diabetes was difficult at first.
“But eventually you learn how your body works and it becomes easy to manage doing any physical activity.”
Both boys say it is reassuring to have a partner by their side on the tennis court who knows exactly what they’re dealing with.
“When John-Reed and I are out there, we occasionally ask each other how we are feeling — just because we want to look out for one another,” said Palmer.
“Having someone who shares your same disease makes it easier,” said Barnes. “I’m not sure either one of us has had low blood sugar on the court. But I know if it were to happen, we would obviously be able to relate with one another and help each other, making the process easier.”
The two are less than two weeks from their high school graduation. Barnes, who was a standout basketball player at Gate City, has signed to play at Carson-Newman University. Palmer hopes to have a career in radiology and will head to Mountain Empire Community College in the fall.
But, for now, the doubles partners have one goal on their minds.
“We are getting ready to finish up our regular season,” said Palmer. “Then we will play in the conference tournament and then, hopefully, region and then state. John-Reed and I have a great opportunity to make it very far this year.”
“Making it to state is the ultimate goal for us right now. For that to happen our senior year would be lots of fun,” said Barnes.